By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Jamboree radio show debuted in the middle of the State Fair as a half-hour spot emceed by Hicks. Gradually, as the show's popularity grew, so did Hicks': in 1950 he was rated the No. 3 Western DJ in the country by Billboard. The Jamboree's slot was expanded until, in September 1952, the entire show was aired, and soon gained a revolving slot on CBS Radio's national Saturday Night Country Style, also hosted by Hicks.
In his role as emcee, Hicks would act, sing, and generally clown around, usually in a red bent-brimmed hat--his "Johnny on the spot" hat--not unlike that favored by Ralph Kramden's pal Norton. There is a picture of Hicks at the 1949 State Fair--wearing what looks like an operatic helmet with thick braids coming out from under it--performing a comedy routine called "I Didn't Know the Gun was Loaded" from the back of the Light Crust Doughboys' famous bus (the one with a built-in PA and a stage on the back); a sign next to them advertises Slim Whitman as the Doughboys' vocalist.
Hicks also recorded quite a bit for Columbia and less for smaller labels like Talent; a couple of his cuts can still be found on the Columbia Legacy Country Classics compilation Hillbilly Boogie!: "Hamburger Hop" ("You really should go, 'cause it's swept the land/Everybody's going to the hamburger stand/When they put 'em on the griddle do the flippety-flop/Everybody's going to the hamburger hop") and "Get Your Kicks (From the Country Hicks)." Hicks obviously had a weakness for light-hearted hooks, but the cuts hold their own on the collection next to better-known acts like Spade Cooley and Bob Wills. His name also appears as co-writer on an old 78 titled "The Ballad of Candy Barr" about the life and misadventures of the notorious stripper of the time.
While on the Jamboree, Hicks saw the focus of the show change from country acts like Hank Williams and Webb Pierce (whom he termed "Shreveport hillbillies") to more rockin' acts like Ronnie Dawson and Joe Poovey. He also went on the road, emceeing package tours from Dallas that McLemore would put together. At its peak, the Jamboree drew 5,000 people, Saturday night after Saturday night.
Hicks and McLemore never did get along; Hicks walked off the show several times. TV and rock 'n' roll spelled the end for radio in general and shows like the Jamboree in particular, and in 1959 Hicks left for good; the Jamboree went on without him, on and off, until 1970. After leaving the Jamboree, Hicks worked as a country DJ. He left Dallas with his wife Regina for California in 1964, where he continued his work in advertising and radio and pursued writing, photography, and acting as well, until heart problems sidelined him.
And justice for all
For many, the producer of an album is a bit of trivia too arcane to worry about. This year's Music Awards admitted as much when--owing to space considerations--we dropped our examinations of the various nominees in this category; but producers can be as important to an album as the band or artist. Dallas has a particularly rich crop of talent in this area, so in honor of their contributions to the local music scene, we're telling you about them here--even though the race has been run. The nominees for local radio show were omitted from the Awards supplement for the same reason, and are included in the same spirit of tribute.
"I'm responsible for [Arista's] lowest selling record ever--Funland's Sweetness," says David Castell with a chuckle. Throughout last year, Castell was holed up on the outskirts of Denton, producing Green Romance Orchestra, ex-Pearl Jammer Dave Abbruzzese's ongoing project. The recording sessions were improvised on the spot, and Castell's role was akin to that of a documentarian, recording events as they occurred. The result was hundreds of hours of jam sessions, some of which were mixed and edited as songs for a possible album.
Back from Denton since the year began, Castell has returned to his usual studio work: He finished the mixing of the first cottonmouth, texas album for Virgin and is working on Buck Jones' debut for steve records. "I don't know what sets me apart," he admits. "I like noise. I hope that I'm making noisy records, because I tend to like that."
A few years ago, his name was attached to the major projects of notable local bands like Course of Empire and Funland. "Those were the old days. Long ago, I had a mobile truck and went around and recorded everybody at their houses. I didn't have a studio. As I went on to do bigger projects like Course of Empire, I bought bigger [equipment], and [now] I have an overhead. The smaller, unknown bands can't afford me, or they assume that they can't. There are a lot of younger bands [like] the Course of Empires of the past that I can't afford to help all the time, which is a drag."
To say Carl Finch's portfolio is eclectic would be succinct, but at the expense of understatement. Finch juggles both his individual projects and those of Brave Combo, the pioneering post-polka group from Denton. The Combo has collaborated with folk singers, accordionists, a tango orchestra, Tiny Tim, David Byrne, and, currently, U.S. Olympic ice skaters; Finch is putting together the soundtrack for some members of the U.S. Olympic team's skate routine at next year's winter Olympic games. "We're thinking about doing a 'Latin Elvis' medley," Finch says.